Egypt's presidency of COMESA targets regional integration and leveraging of AfCFTA: Sisi

Mohamed Soliman , Tuesday 23 Nov 2021

President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said on Tuesday that Egypt’s presidency of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa bloc (COMESA) aims to achieve regional integration by developing intra-regional trade, as well as leveraging the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi speaks during the COMESA summit in the New Administration Capital, Egypt on Tuesday 23 November, 2021. Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Presidency.

The president made his remarks as he chaired the 21st Summit of the COMESA’s Heads of State and Government, which kicked off today at Egypt’s New Administrative Capital (NAC).

El-Sisi underscored the necessity of introducing exemptions to customs as agreed upon within the framework of the AfCFTA.

He highlighted his proposal to set up a mechanism to review the trade policies of member states on a periodic basis to ensure the effective implementation of customs privileges.

Earlier during the opening session of the summit, President El-Sisi took over the chairmanship of the COMESA from President of Madagascar Andry Rajoelina.

The COMESA was founded in December 1994 — replacing the Preferential Trade Area that had existed since 1981 — as an organisation of free independent sovereign states which agreed to cooperate in developing their natural and human resources for the good of all their peoples.

According to COMESA, the summit is held under the theme: “Building Resilience Through Strategic Digital Economic Integration,” and "aims to rally the 21 member states on how to safeguard and advance the COMESA regional integration agenda using digital platforms to facilitate doing business and enhance their resilience to face the economic repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic."

Egypt is assuming the presidency of the summit for the first time since 2001.

Zambia hosted the last COMESA summit in Lusaka in 2018.

“Egypt will seek to follow up on this mechanism in cooperation with the COMESA’s general secretariat and member states,” El-Sisi said.

He added that Egypt will strive to promote continental integration and highlight the progress made within the framework of the regional integration of COMESA, the East African Community, and the Southern African Development Community.

Egypt will also work on encouraging the countries that signed the AfCFTA agreement to start enforcing its terms, he said.

The AfCFTA agreement — which was signed in March 2018 in Rwanda to become the world’s largest free-trade area — came into effect on 1 January 2021. AfCFTA, which created a market of 1.2 billion people, is the eighth largest economic bloc in the world. It has a combined GDP of $3 trillion that is expected to more than double by 2050, according to the African Union (AU).

Thirty-nine states out of the 55 members of the AU have ratified the AfCFTA agreement with the aim of accelerating intra-African trade and boosting Africa’s trading position in the global market by strengthening the continent’s common voice and policy space in global trade negotiations.

El-Sisi underscored the necessity of stepping up cooperation in various manufacturing sectors and benefiting from the resources available to the countries of the region, particularly in light of the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

In September, El-Sisi called during his speech to the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) for debt relief for developing countries, especially African and middle-income states, in light of the economic repercussions of the pandemic.

“The African continent has become the most affected by the coronavirus at a time when its peoples are facing other challenges that are not less serious than the pandemic,” El-Sisi said.

During his speech on Tuesday, El-Sisi said that the pandemic negatively affected the flow of regional and international supply chains.

He stressed that these chains will be reshaped according to the ability of national economies to recover.

The availability of competitive capabilities in African countries will also play a role also in reshaping regional and international supply chains, El-Sisi added.

He urged the COMESA’s member states to make use of current conditions to deepen industrial cooperation.

El-Sisi said that Egypt has prepared an initiative for regional industrial integration with the aim of participating with member states and the general secretariat to draw up an executive plan to achieve this integration and increase productivity under the slogan ‘Made in COMESA.’

The Egyptian initiative goes in line with the COMESA’s 2017-2026 Industrial Strategy and the 2063 African Development Agenda, the Egyptian president assured.

The initiative aims to study the resources available to the bloc’s countries and to determine the relative advantages available to them in order to integrate the targeted industrial sectors into regional and international value chains.

Furthermore, El-Sisi called on the COMESA’s member states and the general secretariat to make use of the Egyptian initiative and develop an executive plan on the short-and long-term to back the industrial sector and the business community in COMESA.

Infrastructure integration, promoting investment

Egypt will also work on ramping up economic integration in the infrastructure sectors, especially transportation, energy, communications, and information technology, El-Sisi said.

He highlighted Egypt’s readiness to cooperate with all member states of the COMESA in all these sectors in light of the leap Egypt achieved in this respect over the past years.

The Egyptian president also stressed the importance of infrastructure integration between the bloc’s countries to ensure the promotion of intra-regional trade and the movement of goods, commodities, and production elements.

Egypt is encouraging land-linkage projects between African countries, most notably the Cairo-Cape Town Project that is set to traverse through most of the countries of the COMESA, he added.

The country is also looking to finalise a feasibility study to establish a naval route linking Lake Victoria and the Mediterranean through the Nile River, El-Sisi pointed out.

“It is one of the ambitious projects that will facilitate the movement of trade and the movement of individuals between the countries of the region,” he said

Launched in 2013, the naval linkage project is one of the regional projects sponsored by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development’s Presidential Infrastructure Development Initiative.

Egypt is leading this project with the participation of all Nile Basin countries, including Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania.

The venture includes a navigation route, a road, a railway, an electric connection, and an information cable to achieve the comprehensive development of the Nile Basin’s countries.

El-Sisi said the lack of data needed for investment opportunities stands in the way of promoting regional investment.

He noted that Egypt will encourage the group’s general secretariat to cooperate with member states to prepare a list of clear investment opportunities to be presented to the business community and financing institutions.

Such a step will contribute to increasing economic growth rates and creating more job opportunities for the citizens of the region, he said.

Healthcare integration

The Egyptian president urged enhancing the integration of the healthcare sectors of the COMESA's member states, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.

He called for conducting an urgent study and developing a clear plan to guarantee easy access to medical and pharmaceutical products among the member states.

Furthermore, El-Sisi called for raising awareness among African citizens to benefit from vaccines in order to curtail the spread of the pandemic across the region.

In his speech to the 76th session of the UNGA, El-Sisi highlighted that Egypt has been keen to localise coronavirus vaccine manufacturing “not only to meet the needs of its citizens, but also to export doses to the African continent.”

“The current circumstances have only exacerbated a reality that has been perpetuated for decades: insufficient regional and international cooperation,” El-Sisi told the UN body, as he called for expanding the scope of international support to the developing world to cover middle-income countries.

Improving the business environment

The president reaffirmed on Tuesday that Egypt is eager to overcome any obstacles hampering the movement of business in the bloc given its belief that business integration is an urgent necessity to accelerate the pace of recovery from the pandemic.

“The business community is the main actor and the most important beneficiary of the COMESA Common Market Treaty,” he stressed.

Egypt will strive during its presidency of the COMESA to stimulate all initiatives that contribute to facilitating the business environment, especially digital transformation and financial inclusion initiatives.

The country will also encourage the movement of intra-private sector investments in different sectors, he added.

Egypt and the COMESA

According to a report released by the Egyptian Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) on Tuesday, Egyptian exports to COMESA countries increased by 32.4 percent in 2021, recording $2.3 billion during the first nine months of the year, compared to the $1.7 billion recorded in the same period during 2020.

Imports to Egypt from COMESA member states amounted to $901 million in the first nine months of 2021, an increase of 25 percent compared to $721 million in the same period in 2020.

Furthermore, the trade exchange between Egypt and COMESA’s countries increased to $3.1 billion during the first nine months in 2021, a noticeable increase from the $2.4 billion recorded in the same period in 2020. 

Egypt will increase the engagement of the Egyptian business community with the COMESA’s member states to benefit from the advantages offered by the economic bloc and will also develop inter-trade, the president noted.

The COMESA is a major marketplace for both internal and external trading.

It is comprised of 21 member states with a population of over 583 million people and a combined GDP of $805 billion.

Its contribution to the global export/import trade of goods is valued at $324 billion.

The COMESA covers almost two thirds of the African continent with an area of 12 million square kilometres.

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